Let Me Be Brave

Face the Raven Part 2

DOCTOR: What’s the point of being a Doctor if I can’t cure you? 
CLARA: Heal yourself. You have to. You can’t let this turn you into a monster. So, I’m not asking you for a promise, I’m giving you an order. You will not insult my memory. There will be no revenge. I will die, and no one else, here or anywhere, will suffer. 
DOCTOR: What about me? 
CLARA: If there was something I could do about that, I would. I guess we’re both just going to have to be brave. 

Many people are understandably afraid of physical death. It is hard to comprehend our nonexistence or the nonexistence of a loved one. Even those who believe in some sort of afterlife or in reincarnation acknowledge that death marks an end even if it also marks a beginning. We spend our lives at various times ignoring death as something that happens to other people or we obsesses over it, hoping to ward it off and protect ourselves and our loved ones. But death, will eventually come for all of us. We can try to prolong life by avoiding unnecessary risks, eating healthy, etc but at some point, whether one is reckless or extremely careful, death will mark our end in this life.

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However, there is another type of death that need not be permanent: spiritual death which I equate with despair.  I am not talking about “the blues” nor am I talking about clinical depression or other mental illnesses.* For those involved in any type of job or activism that requires constant exposure to the darker side of humanity and the world, despair can become a constant companion. Despair can take on different forms depending on the person, in my case, despair is tied with anger.  When I am overcome with despair, I want to lash out on everything and everyone. The world is cruel, filled with bloodshed and constant violence, so why not add to it somehow, whether through harsh words or physical actions? If the powers that be want to use violence, then why not beat them at their own game? Even one person dedicated to violence can wreak havoc on the larger system. Or conversely, my despair takes on the form of apathy, which I consider a more subtle form of violence: if exploitation and suffering is just going to continue, why even bother with trying to make the world a better place? Why not just give up? Let the state continue to oppress its own citizens (as long as it’s not me) or drop bombs on children in the Middle East. What can I do?

Clara knows that despair awaits the Doctor after her death. It happened after the Ponds left and it will happen again. And why not? Not giving a damn, either through violence or through apathy can feel freeing…for a moment.  And, many of us don’t want to admit it, but making others  experience even a fraction of our pain feels good, even if that feeling is fleeting.  Despair, is in many ways the easy way out. It is an abdication of our individual and collective responsibility to fight for a better world. This abdication provides a false promise: that if we stopped caring our suffering will end. It promises us a new lease on life, when in reality it gives us death. Only the dead don’t feel pain or suffering.

Clara knows that the Doctor will want to wallow in despair and regardless of how his despair manifests itself: in an extended withdrawal from the world, or in violence, it will mean pain and suffering for others. She rejects that notion: there will be no suffering committed in her name.

When we confront day after day the massive amount of suffering in the world, whether through our research, through hands-on interactions, through our lived experience, despair can blind us and have us believe that we are acting in ways to honor those who are suffering, especially if the despair manifests itself through violence. But in reality we are desecrating the memory or the lived experiences of those whom we feel called to help by contributing to the cycle of destruction and death. We dishonor those whom we claim to care about by ensuring that others experience suffering and exploitation, without contributing to a solution.

Clara asks the Doctor to be brave. What does that mean in this context? It means, being willing to embrace the suffering without lashing out or permanently withdrawing from the world. When despair hits, it is necessary to take a break. But taking a break or moving onto a different area of social justice work is not the same as permanently giving up. But suffering, especially emotional suffering is uncomfortable. Many (though not all) forms of physical pain can be eased by some form of medication and many mental illnesses can be managed (not necessarily cured) through medication, but in many cases despair can only be banished by working through it. This might mean taking a break but still remaining dedicated to one’s responsibility to work towards a more just and equitable society.

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Unlike the man/cyberman we see earlier in the episode, who attempts to run away from death, Clara faces it square on. She is both simultaneously alone and not alone when she faces it. The Doctor watches her die and is with her, even if he is at a distance. But at the same time it is something she must experience alone. No one else can experience it with her. Despair is similar. In the midst of despair we need to reach out to others and we need to articulate our pain with those who have also experienced it. But at the same time, no one’s experiences of despair is exactly like another person’s. And while others can provide much needed physical, mental, and spiritual support, it is also something that is unique to our own individual experiences. No one can take on our despair for us, and no one can work through it for us. Even if one believes in a deity who provides comfort and support, one still needs to be say, “yes I am in the midst of despair right now, but I trust and believe that it will get better.” One still needs to take small actions, not necessarily big ones that display a measure of hope. In some cases that step can be as small as getting up in the morning.

CLARA: Let me be brave. Let me be brave

The way to handle despair is as varied as its manifestations and causes. But I think it starts with the recognition that it is something we need to confront. Ignoring it or channeling it through violence won’t make it go away. It requires to be brave and face it.

 

 

*Though of course despair and depression can go together, and it is often hard to tell where one begins and the other ends. But I am not a mental health expert or doctor, so any questions about depression and despair should be addressed to someone trained to deal with such issues

 

Don’t be a Warrior. Be a Doctor.

Face the Raven Part One

CLARA: We can fix this, can’t we? We always fix it. 
DOCTOR: No. (to Ashildr) But you can. Fix this. Fix it now. 
ASHILDR: It, it’s not possible. I can’t. 
DOCTOR: Yes, it is, you can, and you will, or this street will be over. I’ll show you and all your funny little friends to the whole laughing world. I’ll bring UNIT, I’ll bring the Zygons. Give me a minute, I’ll bring the Daleks and the Cybermen. You will save Clara, and you will do it now, or I will rain hell on you for the rest of time. 
CLARA: Doctor, stop talking like that. 
ASHILDR: You can’t. 
DOCTOR: I can do whatever the hell I like. You’ve read the stories. You know who I am. And in all of that time, did you ever hear anything about anyone who stopped me? 
ASHILDR: I know the Doctor. The Doctor would never 
DOCTOR: The Doctor is no longer here! You are stuck with me. And I will end you, and everything you love. 

The thing about violence or the threat of violence, is that it gives the illusion of being able to bring about justice. With the ability to inflict violence comes power. Of course the State uses violence as a show of power, but for oppressed groups being able to use violence successfully against the State gives the impression that they are powerful. That they can’t just be killed and tortured without the State suffering consequences. The successful use of violence is not necessarily about the type of weapons one has-look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where the US military was bought to its knees by a militarily inferior enemy. Insurgencies, are able to somewhat readdress  the power imbalance that occurs when a State goes against non-state actors.

And why wouldn’t the oppressed be justified in using violence against their oppressors? I know that in moments of anger, I have had fantasies of Americans rising up against an unjust and corrupt government. The thing about America, is that its corruption and authoritarianism, is hidden underneath the veneer of democracy. Unlike completely totalitarian governments, the United States gives the illusion of free speech, freedom of the press, and we are made to believe that we elect our leaders. But the reality is, the game is rigged and has been from the start. The mainstream press does the bidding of the private corporations that own them, and the government often works in sync with said corporations. Free speech exists…but only if you are so unimportant that your opinions don’t matter, or if you follow and endorse the status quo. But if you exercise your freedom of speech to criticize the government, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, etc you can find yourselves on a government watch list.  Look at what happened to some prominent black lives matters activists: they used their constitutional rights to protest both in person and online the brutal murders of black and brown people at the hands of police, and the Feds responded by monitoring their activities. Well known animal and environmental activists have also been placed under government surveillance.

Meanwhile, anti-government right wingers are able to specifically challenge government authority, even to the point of taking over federal land, point guns at federal agents and avoid punishment as was the case during the Bundy standoff in 2014 and not face consequences. It waits to be seen whether the armed group in the current Oregon standoff will be charged with any crimes. Yet compare the response of the Feds to a standoff by armed white right wingers, and their response to black lives matter protests, many of which have been relatively peaceful. If the government is going to harass you, send law enforcement agents and the National Guard after you, when you are peacefully protesting, why not take up arms?  Why not give them a taste of what they have been dishing? If the government is going to treat you as a enemy combatant why not fight back?

In Face the Raven, the Doctor is powerless to help Clara. There is nothing he can personally do to save her, except to threaten Ashidir and those in her refuge with death and destruction. I can understand his anger. I can remember moments where such anger flowed through me as I read about another instance of the US government killing dozens of civilians in the Middle East, or when I read about another police officer getting away with what amounts to murder. It’s been over 50 years since the civil rights movement, and while much has improved, much hasn’t. Black and brown bodies are still viewed as expendable by the US government. War continues to gain the share of the budget that should be going to create a more just and equitable society. Those who advocate for justice are viewed as enemies of the State. It leaves one with a feeling of helplessness where violence seems like the only alternative. So I can empathize with the Doctor’s rage. His anger threatens to destroy anything and everyone.

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But as angry as I get. I remember how violence has the tendency to spread out of control. It might start out as targeting only those directly responsible for oppression, but soon the circle becomes larger, enveloping more and more people. The State responds with a disproportionate response, and revolutionaries up their game. More and more people end up dead. There are cases where violence has helped force the creation of a more just and equitable society, but it came with a heavy price paid in lives lost and bloodshed. And in a time period where conventional wars seem to be a thing of the past, violence can go on for years or even decades, with little progress being made. I would never condemn those who are utterly oppressed and who feel as if violence were their only alternative. But I don’t think I could join them. On tv and in books, even history books, revolutions are portrayed as just causes, with the forces of good vanquishing evil. Rarely are the atrocities mentioned. The rapes that occur on both sides, the targeting of children and civilians for death, torture, cruelty, etc. At some point, the original, noble cause that fueled the violent revolution gets lost. The oppressed in turn oppress others. The cycle of violence and exploitation continue. Deaths pile up for no discernible good reason. Lives are traumatized.

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But nonviolent activism doesn’t always work. In fact it is often met with strong resistance by the government. The government kills and imprisons people with no second thoughts. Why shouldn’t I encourage violence? Why not encourage the people to fight back? Why insist on an action that does not seem to work? I don’t have brilliant answers to these questions. And as I said before, I would never tell a group that has been oppressed for centuries how they should advocate for equality, but for me personally, I know that I’m not a warrior-at least not the violent kind.

In The Day of the Doctor, Clara once again reminded the Doctor of who he was:

CLARA: We’ve got enough warriors. Any old idiot can be a hero. 
DOCTOR: Then what do I do? 
CLARA: What you’ve always done. Be a doctor. You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was the promise? 
DOCTOR 10: Never cruel or cowardly. 
WARRIOR: Never give up, never give in

In a similar way, I believe that in the real world we have enough warriors; people willing to kill in order to create what they believe to be a more equitable society. But in the end, violence often creates even more violence, leaving massive amounts of death and suffering in its wake. I’m not denying there are instances where violence may be necessary, I’m just saying that for me, a different approach to creating a more just and equitable society is needed. Our worlds needs less warriors and more doctors.

 

Sleep No More: The Acceptance of State Sponsored Terrorism

PRESENTER: May the Gods look favourably upon us all. Friends. We live in a time of unparalleled prosperity. A golden age of peace, harmony and industry. But every shift must come to an end. Every working day must stop. Of course, we can take stimulants to make that deadline, to keep us propped up through that important meeting. But always, always, sleep claims us in the end. Until now The Morpheus machine concentrates the whole nocturnal experience into one five-minute burst. Now, you can go a whole month without sleep. 

…..
PRESENTER: All the chemical benefits of rest, but freeing up the nights to continue working, working, working. To get the edge on your competitor. To turn that extra profit.
CLARA: That’s insane. That’s horrible!
CHOPRA: Finally, someone who sees it for what it is.
PRESENTER: Leave the Rip Van Winkles behind and become one of a new generation of Wide-Awakes! The future is here. The future is now. Let yourself slip into the arms of Morpheus! 

Advances in technology often go hand in hand with government oppression and exploitation. No, I am not one of those people that condemns every new technological advance as evil and it is important to note that many technological advances and breakthroughs, especially in medicine, have had a positive impact on numerous people. (Though for those that that market and sell such technology, it is often in their best interest to narrow who can receive it based on income.) Other advances, such as social media, encryption, etc has helped those in authoritarian countries find way to bypass government censorship. Yet at the same time advances in technology has provided governments with the ability to spy and monitor millions of people within their own country, but also outside of it. Most technology, with the exception of military weapons, are morally neutral. What determines whether they are “good” or “bad” is the motivation behind their creation and the consequences of their use.

In Sleep No More, the Morpheus pod has two purposes: the first purpose, which is tied with how it is marketed, is to reduce the need for sleep and enable workers to use their extra hours to gain a completive edge over their co-workers or increase their profits. In this case, capitalism and greed are the motivating force for why many people and companies buy and use it. Of course, the pod is marketed as helping to continue the current, “golden age of peace, harmony and industry,” which in any modern, industrialized country is tied to the god of capitalism. May the gods of free market capitalism look favorably upon us indeed.

The other more sinister motive is tied to patient zero and thee creation of what Clara calls. “the Sandmen.”

RASSMUSSEN: I’ve been working on Morpheus for a very long time, Doctor.  I had to start somewhere. Morpheus’s first client. Patient Zero. The ultimate Wide-Awake. Inside there is a man who hasn’t slept in five years. 
DOCTOR: Or what’s left of him. 

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It becomes clear as the episode progresses that this second, even more sinister motive lies at the heart of the creation of the Morpheus pod. Of course the Morpheus pod, during its use could have achieved some good. I imagine the tired surgeon performing lifesaving surgery, for example. But the episode doesn’t even hint at such noble motives. As the viewer, even before we know that the sandmen are definitively connected to the Morpheus machine, we have a deep understanding that such a machine is wrong and is ripe for exploitation. Any good is vastly overshadowed by the evil the machine fosters. But that’s because this is a new, freakish machine that we can scarcely imagine. For the rescue team and others in the 38th century it is standard practice. Just like their cloning of grunts who are breed to fight, kill, and die.

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The people in the 38th century see such advances as improvements. And it is easy to imagine that most technological advances didn’t occur overnight. The population had years maybe centuries to get used to the idea of growing humans for war or forgoing sleep. Before the cloning of humans, there was probably mass successful cloning of animals. Before forgoing sleep entirely for a month, there were probably smaller advances that enabled people to forgo sleep for a few days. It is this small incremental change in what a society deems normal that can provide governments with the ability to harness to technology for exploitation and destruction. Of course there are good societal changes and uses of technology that should be celebrated, but it is the devious, sinister uses of technology that often go unnoticed.

For instance, the militarization of the American law enforcement has been  steadily increasing while the majority of Americans remained oblivious. Its seeds can be traced to the protests of the 1960s,  it gained traction during the “war on drugs” in the 80s and 90s, and received renewed power after the attacks on 9/11. The protests in Ferguson, in which the police used tanks, pointed assault rifles at protestors, and dressed up as an occupying force which lead the larger American public to wonder, “how the hell did this happen?”

 

 

This happened because the government, state, local, and federal police departments  harnessed fear and the majority’s desire for peace and security in order to convince the population and themselves that these tanks, assault rifles, etc were needed. In the 60s, protests rocked America, with some agencies, such as the FBI and local police department feeling as if a time of lawlessness had arrived. The very foundation of American stability and democracy was at stake or so they said. The FBI used this reasoning to justify their illegal use of the latest technology: advances in wiretapping, and recording, as well as infiltrating and entrapping activists. In the 80s and 90s, it was the war on drugs and the wave of crime that threatened to undermine America. We needed harsh sentences and punishment for those using and dealing drugs. Local law enforcement needed to protect themselves from evil, ruthless, drug dealers (and don’t get me wrong, there are some vicious drug dealers. Look at the cartels in Mexico, whose progress and spread can be traced in part, to the US governments, “war on drugs”). America was facing an evil, ruthless enemy and federal, state, and local police needed the latest military gear to protect themselves.

After 9/11 the separation between law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and the military became even more blurred. The NYPD’s war on terror is known for its attempts at gleaning intelligence from Muslims through surveillance and the use of informants, regardless of whether such actions are legal or not.  And of course the San Bernardino shooting, in which the shooters had thin ties to any official terrorist group, as lead to police departments, union leaders, etc defending increased militarization.  Yet these are the very same people who defend police officer involved shootings as always justified even though over 1,000

Yet these are the very same people who defend police officer involved shootings as always justified even though over 1,000 Americans have been killed by police in 2015 alone. . But the police expect us to fear one set of terrorists, mainly those perpetrated by those who claim to be Muslim, yet we are to ignore state sponsored terrorism in the form of police shootings.

Police militarization didn’t happen overnight. The State worked to ensure that citizens were not fully aware of what was going on in police departments and the state exploited Americans fear of drugs, crime, and terrorism. In a similar way, Rassmussen and patient zero exploited humanity’s greed and desire for more profits. By the 38th century, society had progressed to the point where sleep was viewed as a commodity to be reduced to short five minute spurts once a month and some people were grown for the use of becoming cannon fodder. We find such a thought abhorrent because that hasn’t been our lived experience. Yet many Americans seem to have no problem with American law enforcement turning into an occupying force.

 

The Zygon Inversion: Terrorism is Terrorism.

Doctor: So, let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect and just and fair, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

Why do people join “terrorist” groups? In particular why are so many people drawn to Daesh? Politicians, intelligence communities, law enforcement, and the media struggle with trying to come up with a cohesive answer to this question. A quick google search will reveal hundreds of articles examining this topic and providing various answers. The reality is that the answer is multi-layered, and complex, depending on the needs, wants, and personality of each recruit. Some do it for the power, others do it to find a larger purpose in their lives, some want the excitement, others do it because they are tired of watching Muslims being slaughtered and oppressed by Western imperialism, etc.

The one reason that has caught my attention is the one where those lured into joining Daesh, claim they are doing so based on notions of social justice. On the surface such reasoning seems absurd. They claim to be working towards justice for Muslims while slaughtering and killing thousands of Muslims because they consider them to not be “Muslim enough?” They enslave and rape women, train child soldiers and suicide bombers, and have an almost insatiable thirst for violence, yet they claim that one of their motivating factors is justice?  Some rightly point out that for many in Daesh, especially in the leadership, power might be the main motivator. Yet such division forgets that with power comes political agency. And to simply write off those who join Daesh as evil, ignores the many atrocities that the West has committed in the Middle East in the name of democracy and freedom.

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What is the difference between a terrorist and a revolutionary? It depends on which side you are on. That sounds a bit glib, but the reality is that those in power and those who win, often decide how to frame certain wars. The American Revolution is framed as a fight against tyranny and a battle against British oppression. Yet the American Revolution was not free of atrocities, from either side. For example, the Pennsylvania militiamen attacked and killed a group pf peaceful Indians, who they believed were responsible for numerous raids on white settlements. .Numerous examples of massacres, tortures, and rape are documented in the French Revolution, done under the name of the “republic” which championed Enlightenment ideals such as freedom from tyranny and secularism.   Violence, regardless of its justification produces death, destruction and atrocities. Whether said death and destruction are minimized and justified or are lambasted and critiqued is a question of power politics. Those with the power, shape the telling of the story.

In the past decade the United States, along with various other Western countries have tried to depict the “War on Terror” as a just war against unmitigated evil. Terrorists/Daesh are completely different from the just and virtuous West. Daesh kills with impunity people of all ages: children, the elderly, the sick, etc. They rape and enslave women. And they install harsh penalties for the smallest infractions, such as smoking or wearing a niqab that is too tight, while committing larger transgressions that they assert are justifiable in their interpretation of Islam. Daesh engages in public executions, filming and disseminating beheadings, crucifixions, burnings, stonings etc through social media.  Their blood thirst seems to differentiate them from those of us who are civilized.

In the Zygon Inversion, even the Doctor seems to quantify the splinter group of radical Zygons has somehow different from regular Zygons and humans.

OSGOOD: Why do they want to destroy the ceasefire? 
DOCTOR: Don’t think of them as rational. They’re different. They don’t care about human beings, they don’t care about their own people. They think the rest of Zygon kind are traitors. 
It’s a splinter group. 

Yet, are they really that different from us, the so called good guys? Except for being sanctioned by the state and by the UN, what makes US use of torture, indiscriminate killings, and atrocities different from the horrendous acts that Daesh has done? Not to mention the fact that US history is filled with instances of the US supporting and funding authoritarian regimes throughout the world that end massacring their own people. Daesh publicly flaunts its atrocities, the US covers them up and buries them in the name of “national security.”

I think what scares many people in the West about Daesh, is not just the level of violence they use, but the fact that some of us have within ourselves the ability to commit violence and to do so under the banner of justice.

Kate, leader of Unit, representative of the Western response to radical groups such as Daesh, is blasé about the implications of wiping out all Zygons, even though the majority do not support the small splinter group.

KATE: What are we dealing with? 
DOCTOR: Twenty million Zygons about to be unmasked. You don’t know whether they are human or not. And you can’t fight them, not with soldiers. 
KATE: Which leads me to a very big question. 
DOCTOR: Oh, I was really hoping that it wouldn’t. 
KATE: The Zee-67, Sullivan’s gas, the gas that kills the Zygons. You took it. 
DOCTOR: Well, you know how it is. Daddy knows best.
KATE: That’s what’s in the red box, yes? Of course it is. If I remember rightly, it causes a chain reaction in the atmosphere. Turns every Zygon on Earth inside out. 
DOCTOR: Let me negotiate peace. You can’t commit mass murder.

How is Kate’s willingness to commit mass murder different from the splinter group’s? Both are reacting to instances of injustice.

BONNIE: We’ve been treated like cattle. 
DOCTOR: So what.
BONNIE: We’ve been left to fend for ourselves. 
DOCTOR: So’s everyone. 
BONNIE: It’s not fair. 
DOCTOR: Oh, it’s not fair! Oh, I didn’t realise that it was not fair! Well, you know what? My Tardis doesn’t work properly and I don’t have my own personal tailor. 
BONNIE: The things don’t equate. 
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At some point, the desire for freedom and liberation from oppression becomes a justification for further oppression. The splinter group of Zygons have a point. They were treated badly, they have to hide their true selves to avoid being slaughtered. Likewise, Kate has very good reason to want to kill the Zygons. A small splinter group threatens to create a war that will kill millions, and it is impossible to tell who the “good” Zygons apart from the evil ones. So they all must die. Daesh, is not wrong when they point out Western atrocities. To put it bluntly, we have helped fuck up the Middle East. In the 80s we encouraged the rise of radical Islamists and provided arms for them to fight against the Soviet Union. Then when the Soviet Union left, we left them high and dry. We made some allegiances with radicals in the first gulf war, and then left them to whatever fate awaited them after the war. We have bombed schools, hospitals, and destroyed whatever fragile stability had once existed. And to top it all off we refuse to accept large numbers of refugees because we fear they might be terrorists in disguise. We, like the Doctor, want to tell Daesh and others critical of American foreign policy to just “get over it.” We want to act like the Doctor and say that what happened as happened. But in real life, we don’t get to hold that position. In real life, our government is engaging in terrorism in the name of national secruity. We don’t get to condemn Daesh while continuing to kill innocent civilians.

 

Well you can’t reason with Daesh, some say. A fancy speech won’t change their minds. That’s a statement that could be said about the United States and our allies. 14 damn years fighting in the Middle East, and previous decades spent meddling through small military action via the CIA and Special Forces units in the affairs of other countries, and we still don’t get. We still don’t understand that whether children are killed by the hands of the American military and our allies or by the hands of guerillas or terrorists groups, terrorism is terrorism. We don’t get to call Daesh terrorists and then claim that our bombs that burn children to death are justified and they are just “collateral damage”. We don’t get to deny our role in creating and funding groups like Daesh. Daesh needs to be stopped. But so does the West.

The Zygon Invasion: Falling Into Their Trap

DOCTOR: So, we have a Zygon revolution on our hands. We need to open negotiations.
KATE: I’m not negotiating with them. As far as they’re concerned, everyone’s a traitor. 
CLARA: If you’re not going to negotiate, what are you going to do?
KATE: They’re holed up in this settlement in Turmezistan. It’s where they’ve taken Osgood. I’m going to order Colonel Walsh to bomb it.
DOCTOR: Isn’t there a solution that doesn’t involve bombing everyone?
KATE: The treaty’s been comprehensively violated, Doctor.
DOCTOR: This is a splinter group. The rest of the Zygons, the vast majority, they want to live in peace. You start bombing them, you’ll radicalise the lot. That’s exactly what the splinter group wants.

It’s been 14 years since 9/11 yet it seems as if government leaders keep making the same mistakes over and over again. After 9/11 the United states government, in a desire for revenge rather than justice, hastily went to war in Afghanistan and then two years later, lied to the UN and the American people in an attempt to justify the war in Iraq. Since then American troops, albeit a small number are still stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq is threatening to break up into pieces, and the power vacuum left by the toppling of Saddam Hussein with no suitable replacement, led to extremist groups gaining a foothold in the country. Said extremists were prepared to take advantage of the chaos that followed the Arab Spring, especially in Syria when the regime decided to violently oppress predominately peaceful protesters.

Western response to 9/11 included the torture of numerous prisoners () and the massacre of at least hundreds of thousands of civilians, probably more , as well as to the de-stabilization of already fragile countries who before the invasion in 2001 and 2003 were already wrecked by economic instability and authoritarianism. Yet instead of trying to think of new ways to defeat terrorism, the West continues to deploy the same old tactic: bombing the hell out of the Middle East with little regard for whom we are killing.

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After the attacks on 9/11, as well as more recent attacks in Paris, westerners, especially those who have lost a loved one, have asked similar questions over and over again. “Why my loved one? My family member, my best friend did nothing wrong. They weren’t political leaders in charge of foreign policy or military strategists charged with waging war. They were students/doctors/fathers/daughters/mothers etc.” And government leaders have seized on the grief and pain of a wounded nation to instill fear and hostility. America used 9//11 as an excuse to use torture, and the recent Paris attacks are being used as an excuse to shut our doors to refuges who are running form the very terrorists that we helped create and to  expand government surveillance and power.

Daesh and other extremists groups have done and continue to do horrific things. But the West is not innocent of shedding bloodshed.  We claim to be better than Daesh because we believe in liberty and freedom yet we deny people in Guantanamo Bay fair trials and we prey on the vulnerable in America and manufacture terrorist plots in order to stoke the fears of the public. We condemn Daesh’s senseless beheadings, yet we use drones to smash to smithereens young children. We condemn Daesh for treating all Westerners as evil, when we ourselves treat Muslims and others from the Middle East as if they have some gene in their body that when activated turns them into terrorists. We kill kill kill in response to Daesh’s mass killings and we create more and more terrorists. We use our bombs to destroy people’s livelihoods and loved ones and we push them into the hands of Daesh. They risk their lives to escape Daesh and we debate whether or not we should send them back where their only choices are certain death or joining Daesh.

WALSH: We think it’s a Zygon training camp. We never see more than one or two of them outside at any one time. But they always take different shapes, we don’t know how many there really are. We don’t know how they come and go. Whether they go through tunnels, or whether they turn into dogs and run out across the hills.
DOCTOR: So, that’s what we’ll find out.
WALSH: We should have that gas. We should be able to rip them inside out.
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In The Zygon Invasion, the Unit characters frequently mention how the Zygons’ ability to change forms makes it extremely difficult to know who is a friend and who is a foe. Families are torn apart. In a similar way, it is feared that “they”- the terrorists, are among us, biding their time until they are given the opportunity to destroy our way of life. In case after case of those joining Daesh, the media presents the person as a normal man or woman before they somehow became radicalized: “They were just your average teenagers…”  Or “she drank and partied like the rest of us…” or “he showed no signs of radicalization.” The fact that Muslim terrorists make up only a small number of domestic terrorists (with white supremacists killing more people than those who claim to be killing in the name of Islam) does not matter. The fact that the refugee screening process in America is so strenuous that it would be difficult and time consuming for a member of Daesh to try to infiltrate them, makes no difference. We are told “They-the evil terrorists could be in our schools or in our local mosques.”

The FBI-whose funding depends on its ability to prove that it is protecting the nation from terrorism-often entraps those who working alone, could not have thought of a workable act of terrorism let alone actually carry it through to fruition. As a result the FBI has no qualms about stating that there are terrorists in every state.  When the enemy could be everywhere, it makes sense to want to bomb the shit out of them. And to be fair, the threat is real, in some places more than others. The fact that large scale terrorist attacks in the West are rare, does not nullify the pain and sorrow of those who happened to have lost a loved one due to one. And it is true that hundreds of Westerners have flocked to Syria to join Daesh.

In The Zygon Invasion, the small group of radical Zygons take advantage of their abilities to shape shift to present themselves as family members of the soldiers before slaughtering them.

HITCHLEY’S MUM: Please. 
HITCHLEY: You’re not my mom.
HITCHLEY’S MUM: Oh, God, you’re going to kill me.
HITCHLEY: Mom, please.
HITCHLEY’S MUM: You are. You’re going to kill me. I love you. I forgive you and I love you.
WALSH: Do it!
HITCHLEY: What proof? 
WALSH: Don’t go in there. You’re going to your death! 
WALSH [OC]: Hitchley, kill it.
HITCHLEY: Let’s go. Over and out, ma’am.
The radical Zygons have killed an untold number of people while holding others hostage. The response to destroy them, to wipe them out makes sense in a world where violence is often the measure of whether or not justice is served. But again and again the Doctor keeps on urging the unit and colonel Walsh not to kill, to not participate in a war that the radical Zygons so desperately want. Why? Because meeting the radical Zygons where they are, does nothing to end the bloodshed. It gives them what they want: death, suffering, and destruction.  The radical Zygons believe that they are being oppressed, that all humans are evil traitors who would kill all Zygons if their true forms were revealed. They want Unit and the military to wage war on them because that would force the other Zygons to fight or be killed. In a similar way, Daesh wants the West to respond with more fire power and to refuse to take in the refugees. Why? Because it fits into their narrative of an uncaring West who hates all Muslims.  Just like after 9/11 Bin Laden wanted to provoke a war with the West, and he got it. The fact that he was later killed and al Qaeda virtually destroyed in Afghanistan, has done nothing to slow down its affiliates in other countries and means very little when a new group, like Daesh takes its place.

We can’t control the actions of Daesh. But we can at least refuse to provide them with even more fodder to stoke their hatred. We can choose to be better. But the fact of the matter is, we don’t want to be better. Our government leaders do not want to think of a different way to contain Daesh. War is too lucrative. The FBI, CIA, and NSA amongst other agencies have been given substantial cash and legal leeway to do whatever they want. The military has seen its already bloated budget expand and even the so called cuts to their budgets, despite what top commanders say, do not in fact harm the military ability to wage war. In fact, even though we spend the most money of any nation on our military, we are still unable to win the wars we wage in the Middle East. Perhaps, 14 years in, it’s time for a new strategy.

The Woman Who Lived: A Plea to Care

DOCTOR: I’ve left you alone too long. I had no idea how much you’d suffered. But I remember the person you used to be. She’s still in there. I can help you find her. 
ASHILDR: Spare me your pity, I’m fine. 
DOCTOR: I think this is just another mask that you wear to protect you from the pain. 
ASHILDR: I think the alternative frightens you, that this is who I’ve become. 
DOCTOR: This is no way to live your life, de-sensitised to the world. 

Like the Doctor, the last time we saw Ashildr, she was an intelligent, compassionate young girl, whose love and belief in her village, as well as her vivid imagination captured the Doctor’s heart and enabled him to find a way to save the village without spilling anymore blood. Furthermore, the Doctor had been given an opportunity to save someone from death. To prevent death from gaining another victory. He said to hell with any laws/rules from the Time Lords that would thwart him from saving lives. He bought joy and hope to a village that had already lost so much. Many people think they would want to have immortality-but the problem with immortality is that you get to not only repeatedly experience the highs and joys of life-but also the utter devastations. Again and again death surrounds you. Again and again you get close to people-only to have them die. Immortality doesn’t grant you extra super powers-other than being able to outlive everyone else-you are still unable to stop all the wars and bloodshed going on around you. Or to stop the diseases that can devastate a village

ASHILDR: My love is dying. It broke my heart when the questions started and I knew I had to leave him. I returned to find an old man who smiles and thinks I am a dream. I am flesh and blood, my love, but all you see is a ghost. 
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There are people who don’t give a damn about other people-they are so Self-absorbed that their ability to empathize with another person is nonexistent. Then there are others who care deeply about the wounds of the world and all the pain and suffering, but in order to survive they need to deaden their emotions. Their hearts become hardened.  And those with hard hearts have no qualms about causing other people suffering-whether they deserve it or not. Early in the episode Ashildr basically gloats about her military prowess in the hundred year’s war.

ASHILDR: The Battle of Agincourt. My first stint as a man. No-one will ever know that a mere woman helped end the Hundred Years’ War. 
DOCTOR: You’re immortal, not indestructible. You can be hurt, killed even. 
(He twangs the bowstring.) 
ASHILDR: Ten thousand hours is all it takes to master any skill. Over a hundred thousand hours and you’re the best there’s ever been. I don’t need to be indestructible, I’m superb. You should have seen me. I could shoot six arrows a minute. I got so close to the enemy, I penetrated armour. 
DOCTOR: How many people have you killed? 
ASHILDR: You’ll have to check my diaries. 
DOCTOR: You can’t remember?

The Doctor wants know what happened to her. Where did the girl he knew, go? Yet in reality he knows all too well what happens when one is witness to an unbearable amount of suffering and has no one else to turn too. You can’t help but be effected by a world soaked in misery and oppression. And to lose so many people…at some point one begins to think that not caring is the answer to avoiding pain.

DOCTOR: Oh, Ashildr, daughter of Einarr, what happened to you? 
ASHILDR: You did, Doctor. You happened.                                                                                    DOCTOR: I know you’ve suffered. Your children dying. 
ASHILDR: They would have died anyway. Human life is fleeting. People are mayflies, breeding and dying, repeating the same mistakes. It’s boring. And I’m stuck here, abandoned by the one man who should know what eternity feels like. Who should understand. 

Instead of learning to appreciate life, Ashildr has learned to take it for granted. She views other people-whose lives are so brief, with disdain. For her people are easily interchangeable. All lives follow a similar script-though as individuals we like to think we offer something unique to the world: we are born, a good number of us have kids, and then we die. We suffer and inflict suffering on others. We get overwhelmed with our daily concerns. Ashildr has seen it all and she is disgusted. Humanity never seems to learn. One generation experiences extreme suffering and says, “never again” only for the next generation to come up with new ways to cause misery.

Thankfully, as of right now, immortality seems a long way off. Can you imagine a world filled with the desensitized, angry, self-absorbed Ashildr? Well yes. Even with our finite life span, we humans manage to cut ourselves off from the suffering of others. Americans, how many civilians have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? 100,000, 500,000, a million? More?  No one outside the government knows and I highly doubt those within know as well. Why? Because our nation has decided that those lives don’t matter. I was going to say that our nation has decided that only western lives matter-but even then that’s not true.

How many Americans have been killed by police? The government doesn’t know, and the shootings it does count, are classified as “justifiable shootings.” Why? Because the government and the majority of Americans have said-not explicitly but through the shaping of the legal system-that police lives matter over the lives of poor white, black, and brown bodies. Those shot and killed by police are dismissed as criminal “thugs” even though, America ostensibly believes in presuming innocence until guilty. But police officers are allowed to act as judge, jury and executioner and those who dare condemn those actions are dismissed as “cop-haters.” The only ones keeping somewhat reliable data on police shootings is the Guradian, and even then they rely on people sending in articles and reporting the deaths. And in many cases-all they have to go on are what the police have told the media.

I can go on and on, listing tragic events that are often ignored or are briefly discussed. The various shootings that occur in America on a daily bases. The hundreds of thousands who die all over the world from starvation, civil war, and disease. We-those in positions of leadership and the average person have become desensitized to the suffering of others.

But then, like what happened to Ashildr, something wakes us up. Something jolts us from our stupor reminding us about the brevity of life and how it matters. Ashildr, thinking she would be able to escape this world and go on adventures, kills Sam Swift in order to open up a portal. But like the Doctor warned her, she was just being used by Leandro and his people. Through the portal the spaceships start attacking.

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On Friday May 13, Paris was brutally attacked. Over 100 people killed, with hundreds more emotionally and physically injured. People are hearing the news that their loved ones are not coming home.   In Paris, hundreds of families members and friends are finding out that their own small world is crashing. And people thousands of miles away, across the globe are seeking to show our support for France and for the victims. People are allowing the news to touch their hearts. But how will the world react in a few days when the anger has been allowed to fester and set in?

All I can do is ask and pray that we don’t respond in kind. That we don’t allow this brutally attack on western shores to harden our hearts and cause us to inflict even more damage on the civilians of the Middle East, who will bear the brunt of any increased military action. I pray that we don’t hate the millions of refugees fleeing from the terrible situations that we in the West have contributed too. I am asking that we continue to care and that we expand our circle of those lives that we consider worthwhile. I am asking us to mourn, not just for the victims in Paris but to the victims in Africa, in Syria, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, etc everywhere else where death and destruction is reigning. I’m asking us to care about the poor, broken down cities in America and all across the world. Yes, it is overwhelming. No, as individuals we can’t do everything. But we can care. We can advocate for one or two issues close to our heart, and offer support for those whose passion causes them to focus on different issues. I’m pleading for open hearts.

The Girl Who Died

DOCTOR: Yes, I am a false Odin. That’s exactly right, I lied. The big fella in the sky, he lied too. You all know it. Because what’s the one thing that gods never do? Gods never actually show up! 

Life is unpredictable and scary. For those of us living with some degree of privilege we are able to contain that unpredictability by focusing on our jobs or work. Money can give us an illusion of control and stability. Yet we also seek control and protection in other ways. For many of us we look to our images of God to sustain us.  And one image that many of us hold onto is one of an all powerful God, who controls everything but who can sometimes be appeased if we pray or worship the right way.  This God can be manipulated to do what we want-though of course we don’t exactly use those terms, nor are we even aware that we have created a God that can be manipulated. We get the job that we prayed for, cancer goes into remission, and when things fall apart? Well if it happens to us or someone we care about we try to counsel ourselves and our loved ones with the thought that it was all in God’s plan, or that we are somehow being tested or that the devil is to blame for our pain and suffering. If suffering comes to those we don’t like then it is obviously their own fault. They disobeyed God and are being punished.

Many of us still view God as a cosmic figure living in the sky who decides, seemingly arbitrarily when to get involved. Yes, God answered your prayer for a job, but somehow the prayers of that family seeking to leave Syria and find safety in Europe, didn’t convince God to actively prevent their drowning. Or God saved you from a horrific crash, yet for some reason God decided that the others involved including a small child, needed to die.

We look for any proof of this God-even if this proof leads us to commit or endorse atrocities. Many members traveling to join the Islamic State, for instance, believe that the mere fact that the group has declared a caliphate and is gaining land is an answer to some prophetic revelation. There are some Christians, who believe that in order for the “end times” to occur and God’s reign to be manifested on earth, Israel needs to essentially wipe out the Palestinians and they use their money and political clout to endorse any action that furthers that goal, even if it means more dead Palestinian children.

In many ways the God imagined by many is not that much different from the ‘god’ the Doctor faces in this episode. The one he rightfully condemns as fake. He points out to the Vikings that this god tricked them in order to kill their best men. This ‘god’, who is in reality the leader of the Mire, is excited by war and destruction.

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If we were honest with ourselves, the God many of us claim to worship really is no better. We have crafted an image of God who is vengeful and all powerful. Yeah sure, we talk about God’s love for humanity but in many cases we do so by focusing on the threat of hellfire.  This is the type of God I vehemently reject: an angry, supernatural deity that randomly decides to show prayer to some while rejecting others.

But is there an alternative? Yes. But it would mean letting go of notions of control and power. Power and control are often equated. The more power someone has the more control this person has. Humans project that desire onto a deity figure who we can then lay the responsibility and blame for anything that goes wrong or right in our lives. But what if-instead of an all powerful, distant deity we  imagined a God that  can’t help being hopelessly entangled in the chaos that is humanity.For Christians the notion of an actively involved God isn’t that far of a stretch. Many Christians believe that in some way, Jesus represents God’s involvement in the world. Whether Jesus is God or an agent of God-he represents a God who is not afraid to become a part of humanity.  This means letting go of some of our projections of an all powerful deity who randomly chooses to engage. It means being open to a God that wants a relationship with humanity-and relationships are mutual. We are changed by the other person, but the other person also changes us. Why not the same for God?  What if we asserted that God worked through us instead of against us or through divine supernatural acts?

As I was watching this episode, allowing myself to suspend disbelief for a second, I remember thinking, “you know if this were a ‘real’ situation, I would believe that God was working through the Doctor.” The Doctor claims that gods don’t show up, but God does-it just often takes the form of imperfect humans trying their best to not make things worse.

DOCTOR: The earth is safe, humanity is not in danger. It’s just one village.
CLARA: Just one village?
DOCTOR: Suppose I saved it by some miracle. No Tardis, no sonic. Just one village defeats the Mire. What then? Word gets around. Earth becomes a target of strategic value, and the Mire come back. And God knows what else. Ripples into tidal waves until everybody dies.

If the world were ever invaded by the Mire, and the Doctor existed, I would see God in the way the Doctor is convinced by Clara to not give up. To not just dismiss this small “village.” I would see God in how he changes his mind and decides to stay in the village. I would see God in how the Doctor finds a different way to defeat the Mire, a way that does not involve bloodshed or death. And I would see God when the Doctor, for better or for worse remembers why he chose this particular incarnation.

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Now of course, this isn’t real life. But yet I still see God working in the world. In those who say no to another meaningless war. In those who say that “Black Lives Matter” and that state oppression and brutality needs to be stopped. I see God in those who stand up against those in power. Things don’t always end well for those who stand up against injustice. Our actions can have unattended consequences. The Doctor wanted to save Ashildr, but in doing so, he may have caused her great pain. A God that is perfectly in control can erase some of the chaos and messiness of life. But a God that works with and through humanity is working with a flawed creation that does the best it cans, but makes mistakes. Things don’t always neatly settled. Pain and suffering remains.  This image of God does not promise us stability and comfort, only the promise of working through us to make the world a better place.